- After two months in prison, Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith is released on bail.
- Griffith was arrested at the airport last November for allegedly passing on secret knowledge about the blockchain in North Korea.
Griffith has been in prison since his arrest in November, after he was refused bail at the time. Now that bail has been paid, Griffith’s release has been delayed for another 10 days without any explanation. According to his lawyer, there is no need to press charges as he is completely innocent in his opinion.
A 20-year prison sentence is on the table
Despite the position of Griffith’s lawyer, Griffith risks spending 20 years in prison if he is found guilty under the law. If this happens, he could bear part of the blame, because according to the creator of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, he was warned about the trip to North Korea and therefore acted against the recommendations of his superiors.
According to a statement by the Deputy Attorney General for National Security, Griffith’s presentation at the conference worked against US interests by teaching North Korea, which is under sanctions, how to use the blockchain to circumvent the imposed sanctions. The statement also states that he entered the country despite several warnings and without permission.
The United States and China are delivering a neck-and-neck race, and each nation wants to claim leadership in the development of blockchain technology. Since North Korea is one of China’s closest partners, Griffith was treated accordingly harshly. China is pushing to launch the first central bank-supported digital currency. The USA is therefore under pressure to move. At the time of his arrest, US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman states:
Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to assist North Korea in money laundering and the evasion of sanctions.
Crypto-Community shows support
The crypto-community has supported the developer, who has been in jail since November last year, with all available means. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin has also assured the accused of his support. In a Twitter post, he said that the USA should focus on more serious threats instead of going after Griffith. Neither Griffith himself nor North Korea have benefited personally from the trip. Buterin describes:
I do not believe that what Virgil did gave North Korea any kind of real help in doing anything bad. He gave a presentation based on publicly available information about open source software.
So far no date for his trial has been given and it is not clear how long he will be allowed to remain at liberty on the currently posted bail. What is certain, however, is that the U.S. government is determined to make him pay for a conspiracy they believe is helping North Korea evade sanctions and launder money using blockchain technology.